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S. Carolina DOT Employees Say Agency Hid Cash Balance

Thu January 18, 2007 - Southeast Edition
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Two state Department of Transportation (DOT) employees told a Senate subcommittee the agency’s leaders ordered cash balances hid from lawmakers, an accusation top department officials have denied.

Comptroller Angela Feaster and deputy state highway engineer John Walsh told a Senate Transportation subcommittee on Dec. 12 they were in a December 2003 meeting where plans were made to delay payments from the federal government totaling $78 million and to defer billing on more than $100 million on other projects.

A Legislative Audit Council report released in November said its auditors found evidence to support allegations that the agency purposely kept its cash balances low during the legislative session.

The pair said the orders came from officials worried that lawmakers might do what legislators in other states had done and take surplus highway money, The Greenville News reported.

DOT director Elizabeth Mabry previously said her agency hadn’t manipulated cash balances or tried to hide money.

Walsh broke down in tears when he was asked if he feared any retaliation for his testimony.

“I can look at my wife and daughter,” he said, “and know I did the right thing.”

Feaster said officials first asked her to suspend billings to the federal government to keep cash balances low, but she said the agency’s automated accounting system wouldn’t allow it, the newspaper reported. A decision was made to delay payment of four bills totaling $78 million for more than a month, she said, while other projects were coded in such a way to defer their billings. She said she was uncomfortable with the plan.

Subcommittee chairman Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, said he thinks Mabry and other DOT officials haven’t told the truth. He said he believes officials purposely were making the agency’s balances low to gain support for increasing the state’s gas tax, the DOT’s main source of state revenue.

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